OBESITY is a huge problem in the UK, including in children.
Today, around two-thirds of adults are above a healthy weight, and of these, half are obese.
One in three kids leave primary school overweight, and one in five are obese.
And the worry is that behaviours in childhood carry on into adult life.
Obesity is worse in the most deprived areas of the UK, and people of some ethnic backgrounds are more at risk of disease, should they get obese.
What is the obesity crisis?
The numbers speak for themselves.
More adults in the UK are overweight than a healthy weight, and kids aren’t much better either.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in summer 2021 the UK has a “national struggle with obesity”.
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This is costing the NHS billions every year, given that obesity contributes to cases of diabetes, at least 12 types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and more.
The Government has brought out new policies to try and tackle the crisis once and for all, after years of failing to do so.
What is obesity?
There are many ways in which a person's health can be classified.
Obesity can be measured by comparing your height to weight. This is the most widely used tool to assess if someone is overweight, called body mass index (BMI).
An individual's BMI is calculated using age, gender, height, weight and activity levels.
For most adults, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is healthy, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, 30 to 39.9 is obese and 40 or above is severely obese.
Bear in mind that BMI does not account for muscle and fat. Therefore, a very heavy, muscly person may get an obese score.
Excess fat is the determining factor of whether someone is obese.
A better way to measure fat in order to support a BMI sore is waist size.
Generally, men with a waist size of 94cm or more and women with a waist size of 80cm or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems, the NHS says.
For children, doctors use BMI centile charts. The charts are available at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health if you wish to assess your child’s weight.
Children grow at different rates, and may look different to their friends.
But your child may be obese if you notice that they eat the same amount as you, wear clothes made for older kids, or struggle with their fitness.
Is obesity a disease?
You may not have heard obesity being referred to as a disease. But many leading organisations and experts regard it as such.
For example, the World Health Organization has considered obesity as a disease since 1936.
The main argument behind using this classification is that it may encourage people to seek treatment for their “condition”.
The causes of obesity are complex.
If it was as simple as cutting back on calories, nobody would be obese.
While eating too much and lack of exercise are key drivers, there are often underlying thought processes that need to be challenged first, in order to change eating habits.
Genetics, your environment (such as how many fast food shops are in your neighbourhood), medical conditions and their treatments, and behaviours learned from childhood are key reasons people are the size they are.
Reasons why obesity is not considered a disease include that doing so may cause people to avoid personal responsibility.
This could, in turn, prevent people from taking an active role in trying to lose weight.
Does alcohol affect your weight?
Alcohol isn’t a direct cause of obesity, but it certainly doesn’t help.
The World Health Organisation found that the UK is now the third fattest nation in Europe – and it is thought that Britain's drink problem is linked to this.
The UK's alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe, meaning Brits drink more than the average European.
The reason that booze is so bad for the waistline is because it is made from sugar or starch and is "empty calories" – meaning they have no nutritional value.
Drinking also reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
The average pint of beer or glass of wine has the same amount of calories as a large slice of pizza – a whopping 200 calories.
And if you’re drinking several of these in one given week, you’re racking up hundreds of thousands of calories over a year.
That’s before you consider mixers with spirits, which are high in sugar and calories, foods consumed when drunk or hungover, and lack of activity.
The average wine drinker in the UK takes in around 2,000 calories from alcohol every month, according to Alcohol Focus Scotland. Six pints of lager a week equates to 4,300 calories a month – the equivalent to eating 23 doughnuts.
But people who are obese do not necessarily drink alcohol, and those who are heavy boozers are not necessarily overweight.
How to prevent obesity in children and adults?
To prevent obesity as an adult, you need to eat a healthy balanced diet, full of fruit and vegetables, fibre, protein, dairy and carbohydrates.
You don’t need to cut out sugar, salt and fat in order to prevent obesity – the NHS has guidelines on how much you can eat per day – but eating foods high in these will lead to weight gain.
It’s also important to stay active, no matter what your age.
Try to get 150 minutes of moderate activity each week (such as walking or riding a bike), with the addition of two strength training workouts.
A good diet and exercise doesn’t just prevent you from carrying extra fat. It reduces the risk of diseases which can kill, including cancer, heart diseases and diabetes.
There are many simple measures that can be taken to prevent childhood obesity.
These include respecting your child's appetite and not insisting they finish their meal if they don’t want to. This ensures they grow up eating only when they are hungry.
Kids lead by example, so implement healthy habits across the family, not just targeted at your child.
Food shouldn’t be used as a reward or punishment, experts say.
At least 60 minutes of exercise each day is also recommended, along with more sleep and reduced screen time.
Other steps include providing child-size portions and healthy snacks, steering clear of high-calorie foods and swapping sugary drinks for water.
What is the government doing to prevent obesity?
The Government is keen to crackdown on obesity, unveiling a strategy in summer of 2020.
It said the Covid pandemic was a wake-up call to get Brits healthier and fitter.
The strategy includes:
- Expanding weight management services in the NHS, so more people can get free help
- Access to diet apps and weight loss plans, as well as incentives to get people exercising, such as money
- Enforcing calories on restaurant menus while consulting on legislation to add them to alcohol bottle labels
- Banning junk food adverts on TV before 9pm
- Restricting “two-for-one” type promotions on junk food and placement of such foods at tills in supermarkets
In the summer of 2021, the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme launched, backed by £12 million in Government funding.
It offers free online support via GP and primary care teams referrals for adults living with obesity.
Alongside this, £30 million is being given to councils so residents can sign up for help keeping their weight down – in a bid to slim down the nation.
Kids in 11 areas around England have been targeted for extra help in shifting the pounds – Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Enfield, Hounslow and Waltham Forest, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bradford, Tameside, Sandwell and Kingston Upon Hull.
It comes after the Government introduced a sugar tax, which came into effect in April 2018, to encourage companies to cut back on the amount of sweet stuff they add to soft drinks.
Under this legislation, drinks with more than 8g sugar per 100ml are taxed at 24p a litre. Drinks with 5-8g are taxed at 18p a litre.
Research has shown that since the tax was introduced, the amount of sugar purchased by each household has decreased by 30g per week (about seven sugar cubes), the equivalent of around 10 per cent.
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